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Broken Angel

Reimagining a missing window

In January 2020, ‘The Angel of the Eternal Gospel’, the panel of the West Screen adjacent to the ‘south’ door, was shattered beyond repair in an act of vandalism. The Cathedral decided that, as the original was impossible to restore, the best immediate response would be to invite new work by artists. The artists might be familiar with Cathedral or completely new to it, but excited by the idea of offering a fresh response to the story of the ‘ Broken Angel’.

The West Screen is a fundamental element of Basil Spence’s conception of the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral. It provides a clear wall from which we look out from the nave to the ruined wall of the old Cathedral, and look in from outside towards the new altar and Graham Sutherland’s great tapestry, showing ‘Christ in Glory’.

The original will be consolidated and eventually returned to display in a partial restoration. A full-size drawing study, donated by the artist’s widow, Marigold Hutton, shortly before she died in 2021 will also be restored for display.

Anne Petters : Lichtung – Break / Lichtung- White Drift

November 6 2021 - 1 February 2022.

Anne Petters’ was the first artist to make new work in the series Broken Angel. She made two related works. Lichtung / Break occupied the empty window space. Lichtung / White Drift was located nearby. ‘Lichtung’ is a German word that is impossible to translate exactly. It is often translated as 'clearing', but its root is 'Licht', the word for 'light'. This suggests bringing light to a space - including as a result of a destructive act.

Anne has discussed of her experience of developing the work in a recent article: [1]

“ I remember standing in front of the Cathedral’s West Screen for the first time in 2016, overwhelmed by Hutton’s unique and dynamic way of cutting into glass. Having worked with glass for 15 years at the time my emotional reaction was quite intense. I could hear the sound of grinding into glass and sense the physical effort that would go into an art work like this. The massive West Screen for me is not only overwhelming in its beauty, it also feels dangerous, almost threatening, but fragile at the same time, an attribute which is always inherent in the material glass. It is beautiful and fragile and it can cut you deeply when it breaks.

“ When we met to discuss my work, Dean John Witcombe mentioned the sound the panel made when it got smashed in January 2020, resonating in the big quiet space of the cathedral.“

Of Lichtung – Break Anne adds :

“I have always been touched by the simple beauty and meaningfulness of broken glass and very often use it in my work. ...... This piece in particular will be sensitive to light. The image will appear and disappear over time, depending on the brightness in this open space.”

The other work takes the form of an image of a book encased in a display cabinet. The cabinet, like the framing of the glass shard by audio-visual equipment and museum barriers, adds a question for us about presentation and preservation.

As Anne comments:

“Lichtung - White Drift , the second work…. responds to the book that the ‘Angel of the Eternal Gospel’ was holding. It follows [my] previous works that speak about spiritual fleetingness and the desire to freeze moments in time.”

[1] Contemporary Glass Society online journal : www.cgs.org.uk

Broken Angel: Barbara Walker

March 3rd - June 12th 2022.

Barbara Walker was born in Birmingham and continues to live and work in the city. Her work is informed by the social, political and cultural realities that affect her life and the lives of those around her. These directly shape a practice concerned with issues of class and power, gender, race, representation and belonging.

Her work tells contemporary stories shaped by historical circumstances. She seeks to make these stories universally understood and reflect a human perspective on the state of affairs in Britain and elsewhere.

Barbara began developing the ideas for her work in the Broken Angel project over the winter of 2020-21. During the pandemic, she was acutely conscious of her immediate family, from whom she was, like so many of us, isolated for long periods. As an artist she wished to address the ways we were responding to isolation, loss, being unable to touch and hold each other; but also how we found comfort through finding connection and love.

In the summer of 2020, she had been part of a public artistic response to the pandemic. For the South Bank Centre’s project ‘Every Day Heroes’, she made a powerful image of her daughter, an NHS nurse. This was both a loving gesture to a member of her family, and a symbolic tribute to the thousands like her in care roles.

Whilst discussing this project at Coventry Cathedral, another more art-historical conversation began alongside this personal context. How often do we identify the saints and angels of traditional iconography by what they are holding or shown alongside ? Barbara has also explored in other work the presence and absence of Black figures, including in depictions of Biblical stories. Do we imagine the saints and angels of the Bible and other texts as real, corporeal beings or as abstracted, according to our own backgrounds and identities?

"We have loved working with Barbara as she has reflected on the loss of the ‘Angel of the eternal Gospel’, as this panel was entitled. The gospel book which the original angel was holding is held towards the viewer, so it’s not possible to see what’s written on the cover.

The angel appears in the Book of Revelation, the last book in the Bible, carrying a message of hope for the beleaguered and persecuted believers in the early days of Christianity. What message of hope might an angel bear to our Covid and post Covid world?

Barbara has led us to reflect on that, and through the personal stories drawn from her family, helped our visitors imagine where they might draw or offer hope today."

The Very Rev'd John Witcombe Dean of Coventry

Broken Angel: Abigail Reynolds

October 2022

The next artist in the series is Abigail Reynolds. Abigail is developing her ideas with Coventry Young Carers and the Cathedral arts team. The result will be presented in autumn – winter 2022, along with a related programme of activities.

Abigail has a studio in St Ives in Cornwall. Her recent projects include ‘Tre; a window for Cornwall’ 2022, a permanent commission at Kresen Kernow the Cornish Archive, and ‘Flux; turning a beach into glass’ a solo exhibition at Kestle Barton Gallery 2022. Her work is currently in British Art Show 9, the landmark touring exhibition organised every five years by Hayward Gallery Touring, on show in Manchester over the summer, then Plymouth this autumn.

In her approach to the new work, Abigail is thinking about the attempt to enter the sacred space of the cathedral by breaking the glass screen. She is re-imagining the broken panel as an opening door; an invitation to enter.

“The broken panel showed a traditional image of an angel in human form. An angel represents a portal to a different plane of consciousness, and might also be imagined simply as an opening. I am thinking of the shafts of light which pierce the sacred space of the cathedral. They make slanting shapes on the tapestry wall, like opening doors that move with the light.”

Abigail will also show other work within the Cathedral, relating to the book in the hands of the broken angel, and creating a way to find different points of contact in the spaces of Cathedral.

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